Director: Wim Wenders
Mid-way through the most recent film from director Wim Wenders, one of the main characters—a former Vietnam veteran still suffering from both trauma and the effects of a brutal earlier version of Agent Orange, notices a large object covered with a sheet and mutters, “If I was paranoid, that would look suspicious.” It’s an ironic line, not only because Paul (John Diehl) is the most paranoid character in the film—driving around vigilante style in a surveillance van two years after 9/11 with conservative talk radio blaring, a proud American flag waving and the Star Spangled Banner set as his cell phone ringtone—but also because Paul represents the extreme case of the way that the events of 9/11 damaged our psyche, making us look over our shoulders for years to come as the alert levels changed colors on the national evening news. German native Wenders has a true passion for the spirit of America as embodied by his 1980’s masterpiece Paris, Texas that won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. While he’s never made a film equal to Texas in my mind, Land of Plenty is one of his very best in recent years and uses some of his recurring themes of paranoia, isolation, alienation, existentialism and moral American angst in contemporary society to great effect. Fittingly, the film was not his first choice to make as Don’t Come Knocking was postponed, Wenders wrote the treatment for Plenty in only three days, completed the script in three weeks (expressly with the actress Michelle Williams in mind) and filmed the entire work digitally in sixteen days with all involving earning only one hundred dollars per day for their various contributions, according to IMDB. Based on a story idea by Wenders and Scott Derrickson, with the script completed by Wenders and Michael Meredith, Michelle Williams is excellent as Lana, the daughter of a missionary who returns to L.A. after spending years overseas with her religious father and now-deceased mother. After leaving the Palestinian West Bank, the Ohio native (reared in South Africa and the Middle East) stays at a homeless mission and becomes involved with the surrounding community while trying to track down her estranged Uncle Paul who doesn’t want to be found. When a random crime against a Muslim man in the street brings the characters together, the two team up with different motives as Lana tries to track down the victim’s family and the uncle tags along in order to decipher what he fears may be a criminal plot only to realize that his perception of the outside world may be cloudy and narrow. This fine character driven film seems to echo the brief line uttered by its ill-fated character Hassan of “my home is not a place, it is people,” and Wenders, as always, goes right for the psyche and common humanity in us all. Land of Plenty was nominated for several independent film awards (most notably for Williams) and earned Wim Wenders the UNESCO Award at the Venice Film Festival where it was also nominated for the Golden Lion.